Gideon Mantel co-founded Treato with his two partners because he saw a need for an online portal where patients, caregivers and medical professionals could easily get “the big picture” about what patients were discussing online about their disease and treatment options. The company fills that need by using proprietary algorithms to collect these patient discussions from across the Internet and then extracts insights and meaning from these posts to help gain a better understanding of the patient. Now, Mantel is proposing that this data can also be used to help predict a drug’s chances of success when it hits the market. He took the time to chat with us about how social media can help foresee a drug’s future, what else pharma can learn from social listening, and what social listening can be used for in the near future.

PM360: Can you start off by describing a little about yourself and Treato?

Mantel: When my daughter needed surgery for an ACL injury a few years ago, I jumped on the Internet to learn about the procedure her doctor recommended. I went to a few websites and got a fairly good, but very complex overview of the situation. At that point I also started to read what other patients are saying online, and that was an even bigger challenge as it was simply impossible to get “the big picture” out of lots of comments.

When the procedure was finished, happy to report a success, I was left with a feeling that we need to get to the bottom of this. Together with my two co-founders and a great group of employees, we developed Treato to get a clearer picture—across websites and chat forums—for patients, caregivers and medical professionals to get the quality information I found difficult to access. Treato allows them to learn from patients about their experiences, what medications they took, why, how it made them feel, why they switched from one drug to another, and so on

Treato automatically collects patient-written health experiences from online forums and analyzes them with patent-pending technology to generate the collective voice of the patient. The service covers over 1.1 billion patient posts and over 24,000 medications and conditions. The company uses unique technology combining proprietary patients’ natural language processing (NLP) algorithms with deep health domain knowledge base and “big data” infrastructure.

There are now quite a few social listening analytic companies out there. What makes Treato unique?

Social media listening tools (general and health-specific) are typically used for digital marketing, for tracking the brand’s successful penetration in social media—which is completely different from Treato’s mission. Treato is designed to extract in-depth insights about the health issues patients raise online in real time. Its health domain expertise makes it possible to extract meaning from patient posts, to better understand patients. Treato analyzes social media since this is where patients are discussing their issues, not because it is a “social media analysis tool” per se. Social media is the means, not the end. Treato’s goal is to build the voice of the patient, based on all the building blocks of social media conversations and comments.

Pharma has started to use the data from social listening to gain insights into their patients. How can pharma marketers use these insights to help with their communications with patients

By analyzing the language that patients use, the things they applaud or complain about, and identifying gaps between brands and competitors, pharma marketers can distill concepts that resonate strongly with their target audience. For example, patients often discuss their drug switching concerns online, asking other patients for advice based on their personal experience. This can raise issues that should be dealt with in patient communication, either directly via the company’s Facebook page or website, or via materials they provide to physicians. This type of information can be crucial for patient adherence programs. With the collection and understanding of patient voices shared on social media, patient education programs become much easier to design and implement.

You also recently blogged about how conversations on social media can help predict the success of a newly launched drug. In the post, you predict that the new MS drug Tecfidera will gain significant market share, taking away from Tysabri, Copaxone and Aubagio, based on posts on Facebook which include conservations about switching. Do you think this type of data will be able to give pharma companies an earlier look at the possible success, failure or decline of their drugs than some of the current methods available?

The difference between social media data and data derived from prescriptions is significant—social media can predict the future. Script data records the past. Older, more traditional methods can take years to understand the result and impact of a new drug launch. Social media can provide early vital signals in real time. Social media also offers insights to explain, not just record events, since patient posts share the why, not just the what. I’m eager to see how this early insight plays out in the real world because it really is a game-changing tool for pharma marketers.

Will this foresight allow companies to adjust and possibly save their drugs from becoming duds? Or help already established brands better prepare before they start losing significant market share?

Patient insights from social media can and should come into play for the pharma companies long before they launch a new drug. In the earliest stages of developing new drug strategies, patient voices should be heard and understood. So in answer to your question, yes, this type of foresight could allow pharma companies to adjust to better fit the market, and the earlier they can do so, the better.

How accurately do you think you can predict a drug’s success or failure based on these social conversations?

We are using the Tecfidera case as a test case. I’ve made a strong forecast for its success in the market, and also offered a cautionary statement based on our predictive market intelligence. Believe me, I’m watching how this drug fares in this marketplace. Between you and me? I think I’m right. Since its launch, there have been over 600 patient posts about this medication. About 30% of those posts were written by patients who had been prescribed or started to use Tecfidera. When we compare this to commercially available prescription data, we see this number represents over 5% of all Tecfidera prescriptions during that time period. This is an impressive sample size. We can see that this amount of discussion in such a short time provides strong indication for the scalability and cost effectiveness of social media as a research platform.

What else will you look for as you continue to follow Tecfidera to see if your prediction becomes true?

We will look for an increasing number of positive social media posts about Tecfidera, and of course we are carefully following the prescription data. In addition, we are now closely watching the comments of patients that have been using this drug for one to two months already. We are specifically looking for patients who have reported that they have stopped taking the new medication, unexpected side effects, etc.

What other insights can pharma companies glean from social listening?

Hearing and understanding patient concerns has value at every step along the way for pharma companies. Clinical trial directors should be listening to the steady chatter of patient content about ongoing trials at every step along the way. Market researchers can use Treato’s big data analytics as a complement to their more traditional surveys and focus groups. Competitive intelligence can identify perception gaps between their company’s drugs and competitors’.

Is there anything new on the horizon in terms of social listening and how pharma can benefit from the data?

All stakeholders, patients, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, even the financial community, all stakeholders in the launch have equal access to the same information and can learn from it. Data transparency is a powerful tool for everyone. This is the result we wanted when we started Treato and I am extremely proud to say we are the first Internet heath IT vendor to provide this information to both patients and professionals. The next stage of benefits to pharma companies will be the research side. For example, by aggregating patients’ comments, Treato knows the “off label” use cases. Again, as reported by patients, this data set can and will drive additional research and new findings that can help pharma companies discover products.

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